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Chicago Author Spotlight: Patrick Somerville

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 17, 2010 6:40PM

Patrick Somerville's new book of short stories, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, is out now.
Patrick Somerville’s momentum has been gaining momentum. His first book of stories, Trouble, was published in 2006 and Time Out Chicago named it the year’s Best Book by a Chicago Author. He then published The Cradle, his first novel, in 2009 and was also awarded the 2009 21st Century Award, given annually by the Chicago Public Library. And now, he’s back again with another collection of stories. The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is about a guy who is given a supernatural helmet that allows him to see inside the minds and souls of people around him. The short stories in the book are their stories. The book release for The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is Thursday night at The Hideout, so we chatted with Somerville about the book and his writing. Stay tuned for more on the book tomorrow. And if you’d like to learn more about the author, check out this interview with Bookslut.

Chicagoist: How does the cover art and title of The Universe in Miniature in Miniature align with the stories you tell in the book?

Patrick Somerville: Zach Dodson, one of featherproof's founding editors, is obsessive in the way you want the person designing your book to be obsessive, and Zach is obsessed, in particular, with collaborating with authors on things like covers and making sure they harmonize with the text, the ideas, the stories, the author's thoughts on the book. To me, the title does a couple things that I hope are in the book: a little paradox (miniaturizing infinity?), a little self-reflexiveness, a little something about parts fitting into a whole. And Zach tried to play with this idea with the cover, too--being able to cut out the planets and turn the whole book into a mobile makes the book itself transformable in a way that gives a little nudge to the reader...a nudge to think about what books are, about whether all the debate about e-readers is very meaningful, about how separate parts make up a larger system, and about whether or not you really have the fucking patience to cut a bunch of planets out of a book and attach strings to them.

C: Why did you structure and organize the stories the way you did? Should people read it backwards?

PS: People should read it forwards unless they're hanging upside down or reading it reflected in a mirror reflected in another mirror.

C: Chicago is an important place for many of the characters in this book. Why did you weave the city into these stories?

PS: Because I live here, but more specifically, because now I've been here for five years, and usually it seems to take about five years for my place to start seeping into my head. It was time. Also, the part about the Viagra Triangle wouldn't have made sense in any other city, and factual accuracy and extreme verisimilitude are extremely important to me.

C: Where did you come up with the idea for The Universe in Miniature in Miniature and how did it evolve as you wrote and revised it?

PS: I wrote these stories over the last few years, but it really wasn't until I thought through The Machine of Understanding Other People that I knew how to connect them properly and knew how I had to go back and change the parts that needed to be changed. At first, the machine was just an idea, sort of a one-off, but as I got further with writing the book goes on and its somewhat bizarre relationship with reality began to make more sense to me, it seemed like a good idea to actually just make that machine an actual machine and write a story around it.

C: What about Chicago inspires your writing?

PS: I might need another five years here before I can answer that question with any accuracy. Surely, though, the answer will involve hot dogs and left-wing politics.

C: Who are some of your favorite authors?

PS: Graham Greene, John Cheever,Virginia Woolf. Barry Hannah. Newt Gingrich. Slartibartfast.